Monday, February 13, 2017

women of pátzcuaro

Pátzcuaro is feminine.

At least, it has always struck me that way. Not like Bella Abzug or Charo. But in a Mother Nature sort of way. And that is how I introduced the city by the lake to Darrel and Christy last week.

When I take guests to 
Pátzcuaro, I inevitably start in the same place -- the Gertrudis Bocanegra Library. But, we do not go there to read the few remaining books or to use the ever-growing carrels of computers.

At the rear of the former church is a mural that tells a truncated (and a very Hegelian) version of 
Pátzcuaro's history. Some of you may remember the effect the mural had on me when I first saw it six years ago (mural, mural on the wall).

Juan O'Gorman, one of Mexico's second level muralists, finished the mural in 1942. And it is filled with female actors. The middle section of the mural depicts the Spanish conquest of the local Indian tribe -- the Purépecha.

Purépecha were one of the few tribes who were never conquered by the Aztecs. That was partly due to a lesson current nations should heed -- technological advantage. The Purépecha fashioned weaponry out of copper and other metals. (A trait their descendants now use for far more pacific -- and decorative -- uses.)

When the 
Purépecha heard that the Spanish had defeated their mortal enemies, the last emperor, Tangaxuan II peacefully turned his empire over to the Spanish, in the belief the Spanish would be his allies. It was a misplaced faith.

There is a legend that Tangaxuan's niece, Princess Erendira, stole a few Spanish horses, and rode off, as the first American Indian to ride a horse, to call the people to rise up against inevitable tyranny.

They did. To little avail. One of history's villains, 
Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán, crushed the rebellion, and tortured Tangaxuan to death in the vain hope the last emperor would disclose the site of his gold. There was none.

O'Gorman conflates the history (just as Shakespeare had done) by portraying Erendira stealing a horse while she watches her uncle dying under the watchful eye of the Inquisition. It may not be good history, but it did bait my essay hook for this essay.

Recently, the bookcases under the mural were pulled away to allow access for restoration workers. They found a surprise. O'Gorman had painted a few every-day scenes -- including this timeless rendering of a Purépecha woman selling fish. She could have been Tangaxuan's sister -- or a woman selling fish on today's streets.

When I moved to Mexico, I dreamed of doing my fruit and vegetable shopping in the open air. We simply do not have anything like that in my little village by the sea. But Pátzcuaro does. Plenty of them. And a large portion of them are run by women who could be the cousin's of O'Gorman's fish peddler.

Even when they simply gather for a bit of breakfast and morning gossip.

Pátzcuaro has played a central role in most of Mexico's historical events. When Mexico fought for its independence from Spain, Pátzcuaro offered up several martyrs. One of them was Gertrudis Bocanegra y Mendoza. Or, as I refer to her (affectionately): Gertrude Blackmouth. The library is named in her honor.

And so is the plaza in front of the library where her statue stands. And pigeons wash all hubris from the bronze of heroines.

The statue depicts her at the moment of her execution. The Spanish foolishly decided to execute her publicly as a warning to other high-born Mexicans with Spanish blood. It didn't work. Legend has it that she ripped open her bodice to expose a breast daring the soldiers to shoot her in her "womanhood." They did.

On previous trips to 
Pátzcuaro, I have tried to track down her burial place (desperately seeking gertrude) -- with no luck. The closest I have come is the trunk of the ash tree where she purportedly stood.

Color me skeptical on the tale. Its veracity, in my book, rests somewhere between The One True Cross and Saint Osgyth, the head-carrying martyr. But facts should never get in the way of a good story.

O'Gorman, of course, portrayed her at the moment of her martyrdom next to the local hero boy of the independence movement, Morelos, and the completely unrelated hero of the Revolution, Zapata.

And what would any Mexican town be without its church ladies? There are two major manifestations of Jesus' mother in town. The first is Our Virgin of Health -- the region's patron saint.

Her image is housed in what was supposed to be the cathedral for the state capital. That honor eventually went to the city we now know as Morelia.

What Pátzcuaro got was a minor basilica where pilgrims come to pin amulets of arms and legs -- along with personal notes -- requesting Mary's intervention on their behalf.

The second Mary is the country's big one -- The Virgin of Guadalupe. Locally, she lives down the hill from the other Mary, in a sanctuary of her own. Where her icon and the Mexican flag are harmonious room-mates. With no mention of that pesky Constitution of 1917 or the Cristerio War.

Of course, Mary is not the only driving force of faith around the lake. There are those who find comfort in indulging in the Santa Muerte heresy --worshiping Saint Death.

A couple of years ago, a friend suggested I might find it amusing to stop by the medium-size Santa Muerte chapel on the southeast end of the lake. It was an interesting experience.

So, I thought I should introduce Darrel and Christy to that aspect of Mexican faith. The cartels are rumored to be some of the cult's most avid believers. The chapel would appear to verify the rumor -- based on the photographs and dollar bills adorning the various manifestations of Death. Emily Dickinson would feel right at home.

When the Spanish arrived, they found a complex 
Purépecha civilization. Most of the pre-conquest sites have disappeared. The Spanish and the conquered Purépecha used a lot of the stones from the Purépecha cities and temples for their own buildings. The Pátzcuaro basilica sits atop the ruins of a Purépecha pyramid.

But there are two major archaeological sites in the area. A few years ago, I told you about Tzintzuntzan (city on the bluff). It was the capital city of the 
Purépecha empire (extending over most of three current Mexican states) when the Spanish arrived.

But, before Tzintzuntzan was the capital, Ihuatzio held that honor. The current site is rather austere. The small portion that has been restored consists of two parallel causeways surrounding a square and two pyramids. I have always been fond of these smaller sites. They strike me as more human.

Each trip to the highlands, I like coming out to the square and imagining what the ceremonies must have  been like. And my imagination is as good as any anthropologist's, who seem to make up stuff when there is no evidence.

You may be asking yourself, why we are visiting an archaeological site when my theme is women. Well, I have an answer for you.

See this space between the two pyramids?

This is where my host Felipe proposed to his Child Bride. Now, what could be better than that? A bit of history stirred in with a large dose of romance.

Speaking of romance, yesterday's essay (sharing my p
átzcuaro) featured a photograph of Pátzcuaro's plaza grande -- its big square. It is not only big, it is a social center of the town. In the early morning, it is filled with joggers, walkers, and dogs. On the weekend, all sorts of events amuse the surge of tourists.

But the people who seem to find the best use for the park are the young women and their chosen Prince Charmings.

We visited many more places. A full circuit of the lake. A drive to the pristine mountain Lake 
Zirahuén. Shopping at Santa Clara de Cobre, where I finally bought a major piece of copper art. A brief jaunt into the outskirts of Morelia.

All of that has helped Darrel and Christy to make a tentative decision on whether 
Pátzcuaro should be on their list of places to buy a home. And, the answer?

Well, of course, you will have to wait for the envelope to be opened tomorrow.

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